Walmart, Patagonia and Lyft Make Push to Increase Voter Turnout

President Trump came to office boasting of his business bona fides and suggesting that companies and chief executives would welcome his market-friendly policies.

Some of that has come to pass. The stock markets are booming, and big business cheered last year’s tax overhaul, which favored the wealthy and corporations. But throughout Mr. Trump’s administration, big companies have routinely been drawn into open conflict with him.

Chief executives have spoken out against his immigration policies, protested his decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement and quit his business councils after his response to last year’s violence in Charlottesville, Va.

Now, ahead of the pivotal midterm elections in November, a coalition of major companies — including Walmart, Patagonia and Lyft — is making a big push to increase voter turnout.

The participating companies all insist that the effort, called Time to Vote, is nonpartisan. They say they are concerned with persistently low voter turnout rates, and want their employees and customers to get to the polls on Nov. 6.

“For democracy to work, people have to vote,” said Chip Bergh, the chief executive of Levi Strauss & Co., which was one of the companies that helped organize the effort. “The greatest threat to democracy is apathy.”

However civic-minded, the effort comes ahead of a hotly contested midterm election in which Democrats have a good chance of retaking control of the House, and possibly the Senate.

“Getting out the vote should be a nonpartisan issue,” said Aaron Chatterji, a professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. “But in this day and age, it will inevitably be seen as political. So many of those companies have publicly tangled with the president on race issues, immigration and climate change.”

Patagonia, for example, is currently suing Mr. Trump for his decision to shrink the size of several national monuments. Walmart’s chief executive, Doug McMillon, chastised Mr. Trump after Charlottesville. And Lyft made a symbolic $1 million donation to the American Civil Liberties Union after Mr. Trump announced his initial travel ban targeting Muslim-majority countries last year.

Overall voter turnout is persistently low. Less than half of eligible voters went to the polls for the 2014 midterm elections.

Those who don’t vote on Election Day often say scheduling conflicts — either work or school — kept them from the polls, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center study.

The Time to Vote effort is being supported by nearly 150 companies, including many that have managed to stay out of politics. The Gap, Southwest Airlines, Kaiser Permanente and Sonos are all involved.

The companies are taking various steps to increase voter turnout among their employees and customers.

Patagonia is shutting its corporate campus and its retail stores in the United States for the entire day. Levi’s is giving corporate employees five hours to vote on Election Day, and retail employees will get three hours. Walmart created a website with resources to help people get informed and to the polls.

And Lyft is providing discounted rides to polling places, and will provide free rides to people in underserved communities, which it is identifying with help from nonprofit organizations including Voto Latino and affiliates of the Urban League.

“If you look at voter participation, something’s not right,” said John Zimmer, co-founder and president of Lyft. “We actually feel like we can do something about it.”

The companies are also starting a media campaign on Sunday with ads in newspapers and on television. Levi’s plans to debut an ad on Fox this Sunday at the conclusion of the network’s N.F.L. broadcast.

The Time to Vote effort came together this summer, after Patagonia’s chief executive, Rose Marcario, wrote a blog post about the importance of giving employees time to vote.

“We know Russia interfered in the last presidential election, and, flush with its success, will likely do so again,” she wrote. “That’s why Patagonia is making it a priority to encourage everyone to vote in this year’s enormously important midterm elections.”

After writing the post, Ms. Marcario spoke with other chief executives about the issue, and by late August, several companies had signed on to the campaign.

Among those to come on board was Daniel Lubetzky, the founder and chief executive of Kind Snacks, who is the son of a Holocaust survivor and was raised in Mexico City.

“As an immigrant who does not take for granted what America gives us, I feel increasingly concerned about threats against liberal democracies around the world,” he said. “As citizens, our responsibility is to make sure that a representative government is preserved.”

Other companies have encouraged employees to vote in the past. Starting in the 1990s, Rock the Vote worked with MTV. Ahead of the 2016 election, Spotify, SurveyMonkey and Western Union were among those that encouraged employees to get out to vote. And another effort,, is also urging companies to give employees time off this year.

But Time to Vote represents the strongest push yet to get employees to the polls.

“We’ve voiced disagreement on policy issues in Democratic and Republican administrations,” Ms. Marcario said. “This is about recognizing that a vibrant democracy relies on engaged citizens voting, and that business can play a vital role by removing barriers.”